Does the governor’s state school takeover district trample local control?

Nathan Deal did not get his Opportunity School District, but he may get a diluted version via the Legislature. (AJC photo)

Jesus Tirado is a full-time doctoral student at the University of Georgia. He taught social studies for nine years. In his first piece for the AJC Get Schooled blog, Tirado explains why he opposes the governor’s proposed state takeover district, which will be on the November ballot.

Tirado maintains Gov. Nathan Deal’s Opportunity School District subverts the long-held doctrine of local control. He argues an appointed OSD superintendent based in Atlanta may be able to see what a school is doing wrong, but only the community also knows what a school is doing right. And any reform effort has to consider both a school’s challenges and its assets.

The battle over Deal’s Opportunity School District plan is heating up. A coalition called the Committee to Keep Georgia Schools Local, which counts the Georgia Association of Educators, the Georgia AFL-CIO, Better Georgia and the Concerned Black Clergy of Metro Atlanta among its supporters, was supposed to hold an inaugural press event Saturday at Piedmont Park but postponed it.

The governor is not without his allies. My colleagues at the AJC Political Insider blog reported today: “Deal, who casts his constitutional amendment as a moral imperative, has his own big-money campaign brewing. A pair of groups, Georgia Leads and Georgia Leads for Education, have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to support the constitutional amendment.”

With that background, here is Tirado’s essay:

By Jesus Tirado

When the Opportunity School District was announced, Gov. Nathan Deal said part of the rationale for this new state bureaucracy was we couldn’t sit by while schools were failing.  The governor is right, of course; we cannot and should not do nothing when schools are failing our kids.

But the OSD is not the answer to the problems of schools. It creates a new layer of bureaucracy for schools to navigate as they work hard to create better classrooms and climates for their students, and it makes schools and administration less accountable to their communities. Our schools face serious challenges, but the answers and responses to these problems need to be local, not outsourced to the state. We have to consider what matters to us and our schools as we think about how to help our schools get better at helping students.

While helping our schools is important, the OSD would require a surrendering of rights and democratic power and eliminate communities from the process. The Georgia Constitution outlines and protects the rights for schools to be administered by local people and through local elections to provide a direct connection and local accountability for schools and communities. The state government is already helping struggling schools so the question should not be how do we get the state involved more, but how do we get involved more in our local schools. We do not need to surrender our rights to get better schools.

Given how the OSD is structured and built, we need to very cautious about yielding power over our schools. The OSD can easily outsource school administration and programs with no accountability to the community. Current schools have to approve programs and personnel through their local district offices that are overseen by locally elected school boards.

Under the OSD, parents will have a harder time accessing the decision-makers in their school. Why can’t we talk to families, teachers, students and the community about what they want to see from their schools and how can we all work together to make it a more productive space before embracing a state-centric answer? We cannot help our schools if we only look for problems to fix. We have to look at their assets and what they bring to our communities, alongside the challenges they face. Cutting communities out of the governing of our schools makes this all impossible.

I am asking you to vote “no” on the proposed amendment to the state Constitution because we can no longer stand by and let the state government wrest our decision-making power from us. Our schools face serious issues with discipline and safety, teachers, accountability, and building a better school climate. It would not be fair to anyone to pass off those questions to some appointed OSD leader living in Atlanta, when the problems and the solutions are here in our own communities.

The amendment asks if you want the state involved in improving chronically failing schools.  This deliberately vague and misleading ballot language might make it seem like one should unquestionably vote “yes.” But remember the state is already involved in those schools. They send experts, moneys, and ideas across the state to failing schools and try hard to keep schools accountable. The next step is for us, as concerned parents, community members, teachers, and students, to get involved in these institutions and help them be accountable to their students and their mission.

So how do we get involved? The first step is to vote. When you do vote, and I hope you vote “no,” take that as invitation to reach out to your local schools and see what they need, what’s going on and how can you get involved. Relish the fact this institution is here for your community and for all communities and it is one of our rights that we should protect. There are many groups that are fighting the OSD and working to make schools better across the state, including Public Education Matters Georgia and the Georgia Association of Educators.

Your local school board and parent teacher organizations are also good places to start looking for help and questions as they are working to understand how the OSD will affect them.

Reader Comments 0

75 comments
Teacher0324
Teacher0324

The author advocates for community participation and states, "reach out to your local schools, see what they need, and how you can get involved."  As a teacher, that is a noble statement, but the reality is different.  My school is on the list of OSD schools in South Dekalb.  I have been at the same school for over 15 years, so I have seen the ebb and flow of various administrations as we have navigated through the waters of school improvement plans to include increasing student achievement via instructional rigor.  But for all of our efforts as educators, there is a missing link: the parent. Parents must be stronger advocates for their children.  I literally beg parents to attend student support  meetings.  There are often more teachers at PTA meetings than parents, and Back to School Curriculum Night is a dismal representation of the grade-level population.  Until the community of parents take an active role in the day-to-day life of a school, there is only so much that can be done.  I am not advocating for or against OSD, but because of the ballot's vague language, it may end up passing for lack of parental involvement in the local school.


AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

Two Things.


1. The ballot measure would lose if it told people the state can take over your local schools, money and decision making. Everybody knows that.


2. The OSD in New Orleans did not improve student performance, but it did take jobs and money from black people and give those jobs and money to white people. 

Starik
Starik

@AvgGeorgian Were those white people more qualified and better performing that the black people they replaced?  I'd bet they were. Would this benefit the black kids being taught? Yes.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@Starik @AvgGeorgian

Actually many of the new people were less qualified, and you may have missed the the first part of #2 - student performance did NOT improve. It was simply a power and money grab with racist overtones.

gactzn2
gactzn2

@Starik @AvgGeorgian New Orleans has been gentrified since the Katrina diaspora. "the black kids" are not even there.

gactzn2
gactzn2

@Starik @AvgGeorgian Whoaaa- Hold your horses Starik- you are sounding like a bigot! Having worked in all kinds of districts: black, white, and mixed- I have never seen such dedicated teaching like I did when I taught in black schools.  Truly, nothing like it.  The Peter Principle and schmoozing seem to be the order of the day in the white districts I have worked in.  I have worked in both so I can talk about it.

Starik
Starik

@gactzn2 @Starik @AvgGeorgian I, of course don't know any New Orleans teachers, but I've run into a number of bad teachers.  Not all were black. My thing is language. Kids, all kids, should be taught in standard English.  Black, white or whatever they should be able to speak English like the people on TV. It's an essential job skill.  Kids can't learn how to speak it if the teacher can't speak it,  It may make kids comfortable to have teachers who speak the same way people speak in the 'hood but it doesn't help in finding a good job after high school. 

gactzn2
gactzn2

@Starik @gactzn2 @AvgGeorgian Go to the poor rural districts and you will actually find some people who are white with very poor diction- you are generalizing.  I know many black educators who are extremely talented with exceptional diction- you are being a bigot.

gactzn2
gactzn2

@Starik @gactzn2 @AvgGeorgian It is- they lost over 100,000 blacks after Katrina. Whomever was in a position to rebuild did after Katrina- everyone else had to leave.  It is gentrified.  

Starik
Starik

@gactzn2 @Starik @AvgGeorgian Yes, you're right about rural whites- but the subject was New Orleans.  I know many black educators who meet the most exacting standards, but I have also met some who were poorly educated, apparently, with thick accents. Remember the Atlanta test scandal - they were on TV constantly. 


There's nothing wrong with the traditional black accent at home or with friends but it doesn't belong in the schools. Kids need to be, for want of a better term, bilingual. 

gactzn2
gactzn2

 The population is 60%  black.  There are three school districts, as well as private (some catholic)  schools where many of the white students go.  New Orleans school district enrollment has decreased by 33 % since Katrina.  The  87% enrollment  is reflective of 46,000 students,-not pre-Katrina figures of 66,000 students.   http://www.datacenterresearch.org/data-resources/who-lives-in-new-orleans-now/


gactzn2
gactzn2

@Starik @gactzn2 @AvgGeorgian 21,000 black students (70%) are in the Recovery School district, 2900 (86%) attend Orleans Parish-direct run, 5900 (59%) attend Orleans Parent Charter Schools. They teach roughly 30,000 black students, when before Katrina they taught roughly 59,000 black students (90% of 65,000 students). The enrollment has dropped by 1/2 (black and white), but the number of black students has dropped by 50%.

gactzn2
gactzn2

I'm sorry- the total enrollment dropped by 1/3 (black and white students).

Bob Fuse
Bob Fuse

Sure will, including use of funds.

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

The link below is to JW Wilson presenting at the 2015 Deming in Education Conference that was held in Seattle, WA.  The 2016 Deming in Education Conference will be held in Atlanta later this year.

Wilson offers understandings for making clear the folly of and damaging long-term consequences to come from Obama Administration’s “school turnaround” ideology, and why charter schools, and Charter Systems, and Gov. Deal’s OSD plan cannot possibly even begin to make a difference on the whole for children for whom quality education has been made – and I do mean made – a near-critical matter.  More importantly, Wilson offers some understandings essential to getting on with genuine school improvement.

I have cued Wilson’s presentation to where he addresses “Do Tests Create Learning” and the role extrinsic motivation plays, unarguably in the style of school turnaround, merit pay, pay for performance, pay for achievement being masqueraded as social impact bonds, and such other folly and insanity.

https://youtu.be/k7Mdwj8odj4?t=2920

hnbc
hnbc

I decided a long time ago that vote is s resounding NO !

Richard Cionci
Richard Cionci

The question is...does anyone (outside of education) care?

Astropig
Astropig

Very good question.Probably fewer than the self interested educrats here think.They have a stake in this (some will be ex-educrats if this passes),but the general public is only vaguely aware of this ballot question,if they are aware at all.For many voters,the first time they will see this is when they step in the voting booth.

JBBrown1968
JBBrown1968

@Astropig Proof you are delusional. Those same educrats will be in those classrooms and offices. Keep speaking your propaganda.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Where are the folks who believe in the power of their vote? Where are the people who believe in smaller government?  Where are the people who look up to the patriot's vision of "no taxation without representation?" Where are those Georgians who want "the government's hand out of my pocket?"


Have you noticed that many folks who talk about how bad the schools are, if you ask them about the schools THEIR children attend, they say, "Mine is okay; it's THOSE OTHER schools that are so bad!"  This has been shown, time and again, in other situations that people who speak up are talking about the "others" being bad.


I did a research report on the HOPE scholarship years ago. As part of it, I interviewed all the guidance counselors from all the high schools in my geographical region. WITHOUT A SINGLE EXCEPTION, they reported that THEIR schools were not advising students to take easier classes to qualify for HOPE, but the school just down the road WAS, they were SURE!  THEIR SCHOOL did not have grade inflation, but that other school nearby-it SURE DID!


It would be the same way with OSD--OTHER SCHOOLS should be taken over, but DON'T MESS WITH MINE!

Starik
Starik

@Wascatlady All the reason OSD should pass. Parents in DeKalb don't have anything resembling neighborhood schools, except some that are 100% black - completely segregated - and possibly a few elementary schools and charter schools.  Try OSD. 

class80olddog
class80olddog

It is funny to see the different sides change their positions on local control. Where were the educrats when the Federal government was telling local schools how to run them and how to spend their money?

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@class80olddog I think they were complaining. No Child Left Behind was a pivotal turning point in federal involvement in schools, and officials at both the state and local levels protested vehemently. No one liked No Child that I could see except the feds and advocates who wanted to see greater accountability.

Here is the crux of the OSD question to me: Is the state of Georgia capable of turning around schools? My answer -- given the dismal performance of the state in rolling out new tests and the variability of state policy based on who is state school superintendent and who is governor and whether the pair get along -- is no.



Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@MaureenDowney @class80olddog Not only that, but given the flip-flops we have seen, why would this be a good idea?  And, if the state KNOWS what to do, why hasn't it given schools the directions they need to DO IT?


Follow the money, as always.

BurroughstonBroch
BurroughstonBroch

@ Maureen

At its worst the State will be better than failures like APS and DeKalb.

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

@xxxzzz @MaureenDowney @class80olddog

Of course “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  And the “thing,” hence the insanity, is the speciousness of your “school turnaround” ideology that has so horribly failed in far, far too many cases.  So what’s the alternative?  School improvement, a practicable “thing” that’s very different from the craziness of “school turnaround” ideology.

trifecta_
trifecta_

@MaureenDowney 

But of course, parents are on the verge of approving the Governor's OSD plan in November precisely because they've lost all hope the education establishment can or will turn around failing schools.

And they're right.

Astropig
Astropig

@trifecta_ @MaureenDowney


Right-o. What on earth do they have to lose? Sometimes,you don't exactly know what you want but you know you don't like what you've got.

bu22
bu22

@MaureenDowney @class80olddog The fact is that the local districts have conclusively proven that they can't turn around those schools.  These are the worst of the worst.  And their big efforts in the last year prove that without this threat, they won't even seriously try.  Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  The state would be negligent in its responsibilities under the constitution if it allowed these certain local school districts to continue to fail the students.

Astropig
Astropig

@MaureenDowney @class80olddog


"officials at both the state and local levels protested vehemently"...


AFTER they spent the money for various programs (especially reading improvement),they became opponents.That's a fact. Lots of happy talk the first couple of years when the goals were easier to reach.

Matt Vignieri
Matt Vignieri

Is there a better word for yes? That's the word I am looking for.

class80olddog
class80olddog

Wrap around services? What wrap around service will keep sorry people from being sorry?

bu22
bu22

@class80olddog Almost all these OSD models provide vastly more local interaction and control than occur in the mega-districts where these problem schools are clustered.

class80olddog
class80olddog

I could pick this propaganda article apart piece by piece and we will be here all day. It is a good comical read, though. Start with Pre-k - georgia already funds free pre-k through the Lottery. The key sentence is "for those parents who sign their kids up". Stable teachers? What thing causes more teachers to leave than anything else? (Hint: it was the question that was deliberately left off the State teacher survey). Discipline! Yet that is not mentioned as important. If these schools know how to fix things within their budget, why have they not already done so?

class80olddog
class80olddog

I especially liked the one about deep parent-school ties. How is that one working out for you? Most failing schools cannot even get the parent to answer her cell phone (yes I deliberately used the singular)

dg417s
dg417s

@class80olddog Every time I see a comment like this, I think about a certain "Bushism." You're right, getting parents on the phone can be difficult if they're working multiple jobs just to keep a roof over their children's head.


https://youtu.be/HFsqI5Mkfsk

David Reed
David Reed

Yes, it not only tramples local control, the legislation only speaks to how the MONEY is distributed. No reference as to how or IF the education opportunity will improve for any of the students.

Astropig
Astropig

This guy basically wants to double the guard and strengthen the locks in the poverty prisons that these schools have become.There's no alternative vision here (as is the case with every other self interested "expert" that opines in this space), just a lot of "feel good" platitudes about how these schools will get better on their own.He seems to think that one day,the residents in these communities will just jump out of bed,roll up their sleeves and fix things with... I don't know-good karma,I guess.A lot of these communities won't even feed their kids and take care of them,so they're not about to start bustin' down the doors to attend PTA and school board meetings.In short,his plan is like every other plan from the status quo-criticize the governors plan. Like that will solve anything.


Nobody wanted things to get this bad.Nobody pretends that this is a magic bullet or that it will be easy.But DOING NOTHING is no longer an option.These kids are falling further behind in a world that moves at warp speed.Leaving them in failing schools is cruel and inhumane.Our governor has a plan to try to fix the problem and we should give it a try before we pronounce it a failure.

dg417s
dg417s

We agree on one thing.... doing nothing is not an option, but doing the wrong thing, the OSD (which has shown to be a failure everywhere it has been tried) is worse. There is an alternative plan out there and it involves building up the school with appropriate wrap around supports. If we give the governor this type of total control that he is asking for, all we are doing is inviting more failure into Georgia. Let's be smart about this. Vote no and then make a plan that works.

class80olddog
class80olddog

How many failing schools has the Georgia Deoartment of Education taken over?

Astropig
Astropig

@dg417s


Again, give us a better alternative that's doable.Georgia doesn't have a printing press to crank out money to fight poverty.We have to balance our budget,by law.There's only so much that the state can take from residents before they rebel and make the situation even worse.Georgia already spends over half of its budget on education,so there's not much room to move there.We could devote every other dollar of state spending to fight poverty and it would evaporate in a puff of smoke in a couple of weeks-and the problem would still exist. 


The governor has grasped the nettle of education reform here and in other areas and predictably,the status quo is trying to obstruct,delay, and undermine his efforts.Neglect is what brought us to this point-neglect by parents,neglect by transient educrats and most of all,neglect by local school boards that have let things get this bad. I don't believe for one second that the teachers in these schools are not working their tails off or that they don't pour their hearts into their jobs,but they need a different approach to taste a little success and know that someone will be an advocate on their behalf at the highest levels of state government.This plan has that potential.That's why I'm willing to give it a try.

bu22
bu22

@dg417s @Astropig That's the lie told.  Fact is New Orleans schools are much better than before.  Even the articles that attack it let the truth slip through.  Are the New Orleans schools better than average-No.  Are they last or next to last in the state like they used to be?  No, they have significantly improved in that ranking.

L_D
L_D

@class80olddog I don't know how many the DoE has taken over versus intervention.  However, based upon this report from the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education, the DoE is having success in getting schools off the priority and focus list and increasing student achievement.  (http://www.gpee.org/fileadmin/files/PDFs/GPEE_Top_Ten_Brochure_Final_2.pdf)

 To quote, "

The work of GaDOE’s Division of School and District Effectiveness has shown promising results for these schools on the state’s accountability system, the College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI)."

Again, try to look past the issue of the schools (yes, I agree, some schools are struggling/failing) to the larger issue of governance.  Do you really support giving up the power of your vote and accountability to you when there is already a law in place (which is being used) to allow for all the options the OSD could implement? And if the current law is not being effective, why would the amendment suddenly make it effective?

Would you support an amendment to allow any other government body to come in and take your local funds for any other area to be used however the higher body deems fit?  Without being accountable to the taxpayers?  The Constitution is not speaking to us, the citizens.  It is our voice to lawmakers telling them what we, the people, give them permission to do.  And, I don't want to give up my rights to grant them more power.

L_D
L_D

@xxxzzz @dg417s @Astropig The NOLA schools' averagze isn't surprising considering that just months after Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana changed its take-over law to allow the state to take any school below the state average on their equivalent of CCRPI.  By doing so, it immediately raised the average of the RSD.  If the RSD is such a success, why did Louisiana repeal its RSD law this spring?

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@class80olddog And whose fault is it if NONE of the failing schools has been taken over by the DOE? The message has been made clear to the last 3-4 state superintendents--don't mess with the governor!  The state DOE is pretty powerless (emasculated)now!

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@L_D @Astropig @dg417s To follow up on your ideas, we should not allow these mega-districts. They are not very accountable to the taxpayers, and have not been shown to save money or provide better for their students.


Small schools, small districts, small towns get more buy-in from residents and taxpayers.  When your child is one of 1400 in an elementary school, how important are your ideas?

L_D
L_D

Yet, Gwinnett with 10% of all public school children in GA, and a highly diverse student body (both in SES and ethnicity), continually has high ranking schools and student growth.

And regardless of how large or small the school, you can either be an effective advocate (and have your ideas heard) or ineffective (and accomplish nothing).

dg417s
dg417s

@xxxzzz @dg417s @Astropig in 2014, 8 of the 10 worst schools in Louisiana were RSD Schools while 4 (I think, I don't have the report in front of me) were under the control of Orleans Parrish. Detroit schools are literally falling apart, and in Tennessee, Shelby County was doing a better job with the schools under its control than the ASD. The governor's plan is a plan for failure.

Starik
Starik

@L_D Gwinnett will change for the worse. It's too big.

L_D
L_D

@Astropig @dg417s But, the state ALREADY has the power to intervene, close, and/or take-over in struggling/failing schools (OCGA 20-14-41).  So, why do we need the amendment?  Because the governor wants to take control of locally generated tax dollars without being accountable to us, the taxpayers. 

Look beyond the packaging of "fixing" schools, to the root what this actually means to us, the voters and taxpayers.  This amendment & law, as written, would allow a governor appointed superintendent to utilize local tax dollars (levied by a separate elected body), however she or he sees fit.  

There are many concerns and issues with this amendment and law.  However, imo, it goes against the very foundation of our country by creating a "taxation without representation" situation.  Our local school boards will still need to levy property taxes, but then they will potentially be required to pass those monies onto the OSD superintendent - who is under no obligation to actually spend those dollars in the district that generated them! 

Yes, in some schools we need to do something different - and it may involve upsetting the apple cart.  But, Georgia law already allows this (and the state is using it to help turnaround schools). Personally, I want to ensure that there is accountability for how my taxes are spent.  This amendment completely removes that accountability.  

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Astropig @dg417s We might start by funding the schools as the law requires.  We might start by restoring the funding that was diverted to other things BEFORE and during the recession.